Isotopic studies of the diet of the people of the coast of British Columbia Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • In 1982, Chisholm et al. used δ(13) C data for human burials from shell midden sites widely distributed on the coast of British Columbia (BC) to show the extreme dependence of these individuals on high trophic level marine consumers, principally salmon and marine mammals. Here, we present previously unpublished analyses of δ(15) N for some of the same individuals as well as δ(13) C data for additional individuals. Nitrogen isotope data show that the diet was dominated by high trophic level marine fauna including carnivorous fish and marine mammals. Although most burials were found in shell middens, marine mollusks made up of only a minor component of diet. The data for δ(13) C demonstrate that terrestrial faunal foods are undetectable in the diet of the majority of individuals, and seldom constitute more than 10% of the dietary protein of individuals living on the coast although terrestrial fauna were widely available as a potential source of protein. This dietary pattern of exclusion of land-based animals from their diet persisted for almost 6,000 years along a wide expanse of coastline. In contrast, people from the BC interior (100 km or more from the coast) consumed a mixed diet of terrestrial and marine foods including spawning salmon.

publication date

  • November 2014